Environment Conservation Collaborative Tech Grant

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is pleased to announce the launch of the Chicago-Area Environmental/Conservation Group Collaborative Tech Small Grant Fund. This grants program supports specific technology and operational needs that have arisen as Chicago-area environmental and conservation nonprofit organizations transition to communicating and operating remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please see the Grant Application form by which organizations with annual budgets of less than $2.5 million can apply for grants up to $5,000.

Grants are available to support:

  • Technology Equipment for Staff, such as laptops, printers and WIFI bandwidth increases for home offices.
  • Reimbursement for Use of Personal Devices, such as cell phones.
  • Access to New Online Tools to Enhance Communications among Remote Staff.
  • IT Infrastructure, including hard costs and consultants used to buy or upgrade server. equipment, cloud capacity, and other IT infrastructure that helps remote staff keep connected.
  • Training for Individual Organizations Regarding Online Video and Management Tools.
  • Consultant(s) on VPN and Other IT Issues.
  • Training Across Organizations Regarding Online Video and Management Tools.

Click Here for Grant Application

The Grant Application is designed to be straightforward and streamlined to support requests for funds to support the transition of your office and staff to remote work.

Linda Lipton is managing this small grants program on behalf of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is administering the Fund. Policy decisions are reviewed by a Steering Committee of local Executive Directors.  We appreciate contributions from the Walder Foundation, Hamill Family Foundation and Oberweiler Foundation, which support this Fund.

Completed applications should be sent as an email attachment by June 12, 2020 to SmallTechGrants@elpc.org. Please direct questions to Libby Prakel at lprakel@elpc.org. We look forward to receiving your grant applications and helping your organizations address the communications, technology and operational challenges that the COVID-19 creates for all of our work.

The DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform – Executive Director

Overview:  The DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform is a key convener of diverse human services agencies serving the population of Chicagoland’s DuPage County and leverages the power of that community to address human services systems issues in the county.

Post Description: The Federation is seeking an accomplished and innovative Executive Director to steer the organization into the next level of community leadership and pursue a new strategic plan to ensure that the programs remain vibrant, relevant, and that the core value of collaboration continues to meet the community need.

Key Responsibilities: The next Executive Director of the Federation will partner with the Board of Directors, Council of Community Leaders, local civic and community leaders, funders and other external stakeholders to develop a clear vision and mission for the organization’s next decade. This is an opportunity for a passionate, dedicated professional to have a direct, deep impact on the human services sector in DuPage County and to serve as a key resource and thought leader.

Please take a look at the OPPORTUNITY GUIDE AND ONLINE APPLICATION and think of who you might refer for this position. Potential candidates must apply online and include a current resume and cover letter.

WGN Radio: ELPC’s Susan Mudd Talks VW Settlement Fund & IL EPA on Earth Day Show

Amy Guth’s Earth Day Extravaganza 

April 22, 2018

In honor of Earth Day, ELPC Senior Policy Advocate Susan Mudd was invited on-air to discuss how ELPC and other  environmental and public health organizations are calling on Illinois EPA to use $108 million in Volkswagen settlement funds for electric vehicles and EV charging infrastucture. Not everyone — including IEPA — agrees that’s the best use of those dollars.

LISTEN HERE begining at minute 35:00.

ELPC Statement on the FirstEnergy Solutions Bankruptcy

APRIL 1, 2018


Contact: David Jakubiak

ELPC Statement on the FirstEnergy Solutions Bankruptcy



Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to FirstEnergy Solutions filing for bankruptcy and the company’s plans to close three nuclear plants:

“FirstEnergy executives made misguided business decisions, which failed in the competitive electricity market. The costs of FirstEnergy’s mistakes shouldn’t be shifted to consumers or taxpayers by asking them to pay more for nuclear plant decommissioning costs,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has already allowed FirstEnergy to charge consumers for a $600 million bailout for its failing coal and nuclear plants. This bankruptcy shows that’s throwing consumers’ good money after bad,” Learner added.

“ELPC will work to ensure that FirstEnergy assumes responsibility for the costs of its business mistakes, and that coal plant clean up and nuclear plant decommissioning costs are not shifted to consumers or taxpayers,” said Learner.



Toledo Blade: What Will Lake Erie’s Impairment Mean for Northwest Ohio?

What Will Lake Erie’s Impairment Mean for Northwest Ohio?
By Tom Henry

Though hailed as a rare victory for environmentalists, the Kasich administration’s reversal on the western Lake Erie impairment issue is only a “key first step” in litigation that may keep the state of Ohio tied up in court for years over cleanup strategies, according to the Chicago-based legal advocacy group that forced the administration’s hand on the issue.

Howard Learner, Environmental Law & Policy Center executive director, told The Blade less than five hours after the governor’s dramatic change of-heart was made public Thursday that his group’s U.S. District Court lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is anything but over. The ELPC brought the case on behalf of Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, which was founded in response to the city’s 2014 water crisis by activist and former city councilman Mike Ferner.

Mr. Learner said he wants the court to retain jurisdiction over the case, and that his group will seek remedies and enforceable timelines for western Lake Erie from Judge James Carr, who is hearing arguments.

Judge Carr, he said, is still expected to issue a ruling over the U.S. EPA’s role in the impairment controversy this April or May. He said the judge will be asked to address the ELPC’s claim that the federal EPA’s original actions as a regulator were “arbitrary and capricious” when it allowed Ohio to go without an impairment designation while, at the same time, approving Michigan’s plan. Unlike Ohio’s, Michigan’s plan had an impairment designation for the same body of water.

“This [impairment designation by the state of Ohio] is a key first step by the Ohio EPA in recognizing the reality that western Lake Erie is impaired by pollution. Next, clear steps must be taken by the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA to address it,” Mr. Learner said.

Western Lake Erie — the warmest, shallowest, and most biologically diverse and dynamic part of the Great Lakes region — has been plagued by various species of algae for decades. Blade archives show some forms of it existed at least as far back as the 1930s.

Much of the problem before the federal Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972 came from point sources, especially sewage treatment plants. That problem has largely been addressed by the modern era of sewage treatment, which came after the CWA took effect.

In recent years, the main culprit has been nonpoint sources, mostly agricultural runoff that is much more diffuse and harder to track than what comes out of a sewage pipe.

Experts once thought the improvements made in the 1970s would keep algae suppressed for good. But since 1995, the lake’s open water has been chronically plagued by a type of algae known as microcystis, which — at 3.5 billion years old — is one of Earth’s oldest-living organisms but was often a runner-up to other types of algae until 23 years ago.

An impairment designation for a lake that has been plagued by algae outbreaks on and off throughout modern times may sound like over-the-top government minutia.

But it’s important in legal circles because it now means the full powers of the federal Clean Water Act must be used to restore western Lake Erie to health. That includes a requirement for Ohio and Michigan to set up what’s known as a “total maximum daily load,” or TMDL. In short, that will put a cap on how much fertilizer can enter the western basin’s rivers and streams, and will be used to better pinpoint sources of pollution on an individual basis.

The U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA have thus far engaged in a “shell game” by passing responsibility for the lake back and forth, Mr. Learner said.

“The state of Ohio needs to do a TMDL for the Maumee River basin area and enforce protection standards,” he said. “That’s the next critical step.”

Though the Ohio EPA is not the target of the ELPC’s lawsuit, it has felt heat from it because of how it works in tandem with the U.S. EPA, the prime defendant. Other defendants include U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and acting U.S. EPA Region 5 chief Robert Kaplan, who has since been replaced by Cathy Stepp, Region 5’s new administrator. In her role, Ms. Stepp manages the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program. Region 5 oversees the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as 35 federally recognized tribal governments.

A turning point in the case came in January, when the U.S. EPA reversed course and said it had erred by approving a list of impaired bodies of water the Ohio EPA submitted on Oct. 20, 2016, an exercise done once every two years. The federal EPA said that, upon further examination, Ohio’s list was “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements” of the federal Clean Water Act and U.S. EPA regulations in general.

The Kasich administration steadfastly held tight to its policy of favoring agricultural programs with voluntary incentives over stronger regulations. But several people interviewed said at that point it was clear Ohio wasn’t picking up on the federal government’s signals.

“Clearly, the ELPC lawsuit has spurred the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA has responded,” Mr. Learner said.

He said the ELPC wants the court to retain jurisdiction so that Ohio’s program for addressing western Lake Erie becomes more meaningful and enforceable.

“We are entitled to the certainty going forward. We don’t want to be in the middle of a procedural shell game,” Mr. Learner said. “We’re not dealing with a theoretical issue here. We’re dealing with a practical problem.”

He said his group will seek a court order that addresses phosphorus and nitrogen. Both are common fertilizers. But most of the programs to date — including the non-binding goal of a 40 percent nutrient reduction by 2025 embraced by Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario — were written for phosphorus.

Phosphorus is most closely linked to algae growth, but nitrogen is more closely linked to its toxicity. Nitrogen also is the driver behind the dominant species of algae in Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay, planktothrix. Both it and microcystis produce the same toxin, microcystin.

“It’s not that pollution has to be reduced to zero,” Mr. Learner said. “The purpose is to reduce it to the point in which the water isn’t impaired.”

He said it’s “pretty clear the litigation forced the hand of the U.S. EPA and the Kasich administration.”

“Do I think they would have done what they’re doing without a lawsuit being filed?” Mr. Learner asked. “No.”

Lucas County Commission President Pete Gerken agreed.

“I think they were about to lose in federal court,” Mr. Gerken said. “They wanted to make the designation before they were told to do that.”

He and the other two county commissioners — Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Carol Contrada — were among the first government officials calling for an impairment designation.

Former Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson resisted until last September, about six weeks before the election last November in which she lost to Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz. She declined despite heckling and protesting by Mr. Ferner and his group members, including a high-profile incident outside One Government Center in which Mr. Ferner put algae-infested water and dead fish into the government building’s public fountain.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz supported an impairment designation throughout his campaign, and said the day before he announced his candidacy that he would consider joining the ELPC in its lawsuit if elected.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson said her change of heart came after seeing an unusual bloom in the Maumee River anchored off Promenade Park, just as a major regatta sponsored by ProMedica was about to begin. She said she was disheartened by the sight of the scum, especially in a part of downtown that is to symbolize the city’s rebirth.

For Ms. Skeldon Wozniak, the impairment designation will mean more accountability.

She said Ohio can take its lead from the Chesapeake Bay, the largest ecosystem operating under a TMDL program. It involves multiple states.

“This plan has accountability and teeth,” Ms. Skeldon Wozniak said.

Ms. Contrada, a lawyer, said the Clean Water Act “acts for the people,” and that the writing was on the wall for the Kasich administration once the U.S. EPA changed course in January.

“It gave a road map to the Ohio EPA to follow,” she said. “It really takes a multitude of voices to move a bureaucracy.”


Traverse Magazine: Howard Learner Guest Column: Protecting the Great Lakes & the Thunder Bay Nat’l Marine Sanctuary

December 2017

Protecting the Great Lakes and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
By Howard A. Learner

The Great Lakes are our great natural treasure. This is where Midwesterners live, work and play. Protecting the Great Lakes has strong bipartisan support. Safe clean drinking water is not partisan at all. We all care—a lot.

President Trump won the 2016 election in the Great Lakes states, but his policies are puzzling in light of Michiganders’ clean water priorities. His administration is proposing to allow offshore oil drilling and cut down the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron along the Alpena-to-Mackinaw City shoreline. His proposed budget slashes the sensible Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million to zero. The EPA is rolling back common sense Clean Water Act standards that protect safe clean drinking water.

These are headscratchers, criticized by both Republican and Democratic leaders and by business, civic and environmental groups alike.

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain 21 percent of the world’s fresh water supply, provide drinking water for 42 million people, provide a rich aquatic habitat for many species, support the $7 billion fishing industry, and offer recreational opportunities for millions of people.

Military analysts say future wars will be fought over water. Fresh water availability is our region’s competitive advantage. Michiganders recognize this remarkable value. We can’t afford to spoil the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced a review for reducing the size of, and allowing offshore oil drilling in, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron.

Thunder Bay protects a treasure trove of 100 significant shipwrecks. Following participatory stakeholder processes in 2014, this National Marine Sanctuary was expanded from 448 to 4,300 square miles.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary draws visitors to explore Shipwreck Alley and offers a window into Great Lakes maritime history. The sanctuary is not controversial. It’s America’s only fresh water Marine Sanctuary.

Federal law and Michigan law prohibit offshore oil drilling in the Great Lakes. The Commerce Department’s review is puzzling.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is leading the charge to protect the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Our joint comments submitted with 14 Great Lakes groups explained why this popular National Marine Sanctuary must not be chopped.

Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow and bipartisan Representatives Jack Bergman, Debbie Dingell, Daniel Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, Dave Trott and Fred Upton sent a joint letter to the Commerce Department expressing …

“[S]trong opposition to reducing the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary … The expansion of this sanctuary in Lake Huron in 2014, which was the result of a rigorous approval process with extensive public input, is critical to Michigan’s economy and heritage. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has helped revitalize local economies in our state.”

Let’s protect the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and preserve this historical maritime site today and for future generations. That’s good for jobs, economic growth and the environment.



Howard’s Columbus Dispatch Letter: Cities Step Up on Climate Change Solutions

November 21, 2017

Cities Step Up To Cut Emissions

By Howard A. Learner

While President Trump steps back by withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris Climate Accord, mayors in Ohio have committed to step up and fill the void. Now is the time for these municipal declarations of support for the Paris Accord to become real solutions to climate-change problems. Athens, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Shaker Heights, Toledo-Lucas County and other Ohio municipalities have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas-pollution.

Growing local solar energy, storage and energy efficiency creates jobs, saves money, attracts investment and avoids carbon pollution. Clean electric vehicles and buses in municipal fleets reduce fuel and maintenance costs and avoid pollution. Improving energy efficiency in city buildings saves taxpayer money, reduces pollution and lessens maintenance costs. The Environmental Law & Policy Center is proud that many Ohio cities are saying they want to be part of global climate-change solutions. We will work with cities to adopt high-value actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that are tailored to Bob and Betty Buckeye.

Here are three ways that all of our cities can transform their public commitments into meaningful climate actions:

  • Achieve 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022. The Midwest has abundant wind power, and solar energy and energy storage capacity is accelerating as prices fall while technologies improve. Ohio cities can achieve 100 percent renewable energy by using locally produced solar energy plus storage and wind power, purchasing clean renewable energy from third parties, and securing renewable-energy credits from new solar and wind projects.
  • Clean up municipal fleets: New purchases should be electric vehicles (except in special cases). Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more greenhouse-gas pollution than the electric-power sector. Ohio cities should buy electric vehicles (EV) or other zero-emission vehicles for nonemergency fleets. Cities can create demand to drive the EV market forward while reducing pollution. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower maintenance costs than internal-combustion-engine vehicles. EV operating costs are lower and more predictable. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates a cleaner transportation system. Columbus is buying EVs, and 30 other cities are exploring a joint purchase of 114,000 EVs.
  • Rapidly improve municipal-building energy efficiency. Smart energy-efficiency investments produce cost savings and less pollution. Why wait? Many payback periods are short and the savings come fast. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a no-brainer cost-saver and pollution-reducer. Antiquated HVAC systems and old appliances waste money and allow more pollution. Smart energy-efficiency products, technologies and controls are available. The time has never been better for cities to reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy-efficiency improvements.

Ohio cities are leading by saying that they’ll step up with climate actions. Cities can seize climate action opportunities by moving forward with these three specific initiatives for clean energy, clean transportation and energy efficiency that will produce significant pollution-reduction results. Let’s work together to turn words into deeds.

The Toledo Blade: Great Lakes conference discusses Lake Erie impairment

Great Lakes conference discusses Lake Erie impairment
November 3, 2017
By Tom Henry

One of the Kasich administration’s key players in the fight against algal blooms said Friday the future health of western Lake Erie is tied to the state’s commitment to do more aggressive edge-of-field research in each of the lake’s watersheds, not a federal Clean Water Act impairment designation that would subject farmers to more regulations.

Karl Gebhardt, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy director for water resources, told attendees of the University of Toledo College of Law’s 17th annual Great Lakes Water Conference a major research project underway by Ohio State University’s Kevin King “will be critical to finding out what’s happening in each of the watersheds.”

“We will fix Lake Erie by fixing the watersheds,” Mr. Gebhardt, who also is Ohio Lake Erie Commission executive director and the man Gov. John Kasich has put in charge of Lake Erie programs, said.

Mr. Gebhardt was one of three speakers on the afternoon panel inside McQuade Law Auditorium. It focused on the impairment controversy.

He has come under fire by groups such as Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie for his many years as an agricultural industry lobbyist prior to joining the Kasich administration.

One of his fiercest critics has been ACLE’s founder, Mike Ferner, a former Toledo city councilman and two-time mayoral candidate who claims Mr. Gebhardt’s role with the administration helps explain why it is sticking to the industry’s wishes for more voluntary incentives to reduce algae-forming farm runoff instead of imposing tougher regulations through an impairment designation. Mr. Ferner’s group had about a dozen members demonstrating outside the law school auditorium before the conference began, and he handed out flyers mocking Mr. Gebhardt before his presentation.

But during his talk, Mr. Gebhardt said he wants Ohio to revitalize its Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, also known as CREP, which has lain dormant for several years. It provides incentives to farmers to create buffer strips that reduce runoff.

More importantly, though, he wants more information about whether better farming practices the state has been promoting are actually yielding the results it wants.

Several people attending the conference questioned if they are now that this summer’s algal bloom appears likely to go down as the third largest since 2002.

Mr. King’s edge-of-field research project attempts to quantify how many nutrients are leaving each of about three dozen test sites around the state. One of the preliminary results that has surprised scientists, announced months ago, is that far more phosphorus is escaping fields through underground farm tiles than surface runoff.

The state also wants to make more grants and low-interest loans available to communities such as Toledo that are reducing combined sewer overflows and modernizing their water-treatment facilities, Mr. Gebhardt said.

“We want to get money out into the communties,” he said.

He also said it is continuing to make plans for rebuilding more wetlands, and is working with Columbus-based Batelle – one of the world’s top research and development corporations – on more innovative technologies that might be used to combat algae in the future.

“We’re not going to get rid of algae in Lake Erie,” Mr. Gebhardt said. “And we want to keep the good algae in Lake Erie, because that’s what makes it the walleye capital of the world.”

He and the other two panel speakers, including Madeline Fleisher, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney now working for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, agreed there’s no guarantee an impairment designation will bring more federal money – only the hope it might. ELPC has sued the U.S. EPA in federal court over the impairment issue, with Mr. Ferner’s group a partner in that litigation.

Mr. Gebhardt, in fact, said he believes the U.S. EPA has “been generous” with money it has provided to Ohio fighting algal blooms.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of not having enough money,” he said. “Sure, you’d always like to have more. It’s a matter of what we’re doing with it [and] if programs are working.”

Michigan declared its much smaller portion of western Lake Erie impaired a year ago this month, a move that proponents hoped would inspire Governor Kasich to do likewise in Ohio.

Kevin Goodwin, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality senior aquatic biologist who spoke on the panel, said that while there’s been no influx of federal dollars the impairment designation there raised the profile of the problem within state government and likely helped generate more funding at the state level.

“The mere impairment listing within the state already elevates it [within the state] for more funding,” Mr. Goodwin said. “It starts internal wheels moving.”

Ms. Fleisher said the lawsuit filed against the U.S. EPA pertains to the agency’s obligations under the federal Clean Water Act’s “rule of law.”

“Any administration, regardless of its politics, is supposed to follow the rule of law,” she said.



New York Times: Advocacy Groups Say EPA Not Doing Enough to Protect Lake Erie

By The Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio — Environmental advocates who sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because they believe not enough is being done to address the toxic algae problem in Lake Erie said they think the agency’s response to the suit only bolsters their argument.

The groups want the EPA to declare that the western end of the lake is impaired by the algae that’s a threat to drinking water and fish. Such a designation could lead to stricter pollution controls.

The federal agency last spring sided with Ohio’s environmental regulators who recommended not listing the lake’s open waters as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act.

Algae blooms have turned the lake unsightly shades of green most summers over the past decade. An outbreak in 2014 contaminated the tap water for two days for more than 400,000 people around Toledo.

While steps have been taken to reduce the farm fertilizer runoff and municipal sewage overflows that feed the algae, environmental groups and some political leaders have become frustrated by the pace and depth of those efforts and have called for the impairment listing.

The EPA in court documents filed last week said Ohio’s environmental regulators didn’t look at whether the lake’s open waters were meeting the state’s water quality standards.

“They’re owning up to the fact that Ohio didn’t do this,” said Madeline Fleisher, an attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

She said the EPA’s acceptance of Ohio’s decision not to seek the impairment designation shows that the federal agency isn’t willing to address the algae problem in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.

“We expect better from the agencies that are supposed to be leading the way on protecting people and the environment,” Fleisher said.


Crain’s Chicago Business: House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

By Greg Hinz

With a big assist from a bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Ohio, it looks like plans by the Trump administration to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are on the way to being derailed.

As previously reported, Trump proposed cutting the program—which pays for everything from sewage treatment plants in Milwaukee and water-permeable concrete in Uptown to electronic barriers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan—a whopping 97 percent. Trump aides said that and other kinds of spending have to go to make room for tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

​ But yesterday, GOP Rep. David Joyce and Democratic colleague Marie Kaptur, both from the Toledo area, convinced the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to include the normal $300 million in the pending fiscal 2018 federal budget.

The action is only “a first step,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center here. But the full appropriations committee likely will go along with the subcommittee, and traditionally so does the full House. It’s worth noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin comes from a lakefront district.



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